‘American Idol’ Season 1 Runner-Up Justin Guarini Reflects on Filming the Now-Iconic Show

by Joe Rutland

Justin Guarini is a name that any hardcore American Idol fan will know as he was the Season 1 runner-up to Kelly Clarkson. That was quite a first season back in 2002 as everyone began watching this show. Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson were the first judges, with Ryan Seacrest as host. These days, Guarini has been involved in so much, from Broadway to voiceover work. Still, looking back on his time with American Idol does bring some tender memories for him to recall.

“We all went into this blind, and we were making it up as we went along,” Guarini said in an interview with Insider. “All I knew is that my job was to just show up and shine.” That’s just what the singer did. But he also would remember this about the process. Guarini said there were “hours and hours of singers in lines.” Things took place “over a matter of weeks, rather than months and months.” He would call it “one of the most wild and interesting processes I’ve ever been through.”

Justin Guarini of ‘American Idol’ Even Stunned Simon Cowell

Guarini would sing The Miracles’ song Who’s Lovin’ You. Cowell would say, “Occasionally, you’re very privileged when you do a competition like this to hear somebody who’s undiscovered with a voice like yours, and I think this is one of those moments.” Before appearing on American Idol, Cowell was a judge on the United Kingdom show Pop Idol. Abdul made her name as a singer and dancer. Jackson would come from one of music’s greatest families.

Well, Guarini referred to American Idol as “a pressure cooker.” He says, “It’s a proving ground for everything that you’re going to have to deal with when it comes to being successful in the entertainment business and the music business.” In order to get a spot on the show, he simply had to go from Pennsylvania, where he lived, to New York. That’s quite a difference from other performers who travel across the United States just for a chance.

Hollywood Week is one of the toughest ones for the show’s contestants. It puts them under an intense amount of pressure. Guarini was ready for it when he sang Get Here originally done by Brenda Russell. This sent him into the top 30 contestants. They got trimmed to the top 10 and he, at 23 years old, was a finalist. Producers did have a say over a lot of the show’s elements, including costumes. But Guarini says that they were open to suggestions. He remembered that being the case when it involved their outfits or even the songs that were sung by performers.